I'm not sure what WoT is in this context (not Wheel of Time?). [EDIT: = wall of text?]@pemerton - Before I WoT here, a question. Do you think it's common in D&D games for the DM to ask the players to describe something in the game world? As in, the player walk into their local tavern, and the DM asks OK, what does it look like and who's here? That sort of thing.
My basic premise is that isn't common at all, nor is it suggested or encouraged by the rules set. Why I think that's important is another story, but I wanted to set the ground before we got any more involved, as I think we're coming at this form different angles.
i think it's probably not common for the GM in a D&D game to ask players to describe things. What puzzles me is why it's not.
Maybe our different angles, or at least one dimension of difference - as I read your posts, so obviously with all the risk of error that entails! - is that you seem to be thinking that if the text doesn't forthrightly encourage player contributions, it is tending to discourage them.
Whereas I think if the text says little about it, then if the tendency is to go one way (few player contriutions) rather than another (some, even many, player contributions) that invites further inquiry and explanation. Especially when the texts are not all one-way.
I've posted already the passage from 1977 Traveller. From 1979 DMG )p (93) we have the following:
Assume that the player in question decides that he will set up a stronghold about 100 miles from a border town, choosing an area of wooded hills as the general site. He then asks you if there is a place where he can build a small concentric castle on a high bluff overlooking a river. Unless this is totally foreign to the area, you inform him that he can do so.
On the one hand, that's not the most powerful player contribution to the fiction of all time; on the other, it shows that the GM - while having overall editorial control - is not envisaged as being the sole contributor shared fiction. This is reinforced when we consider actual play examples from Gygax's game - many of which are recorded in early published products like the Rogue's Gallery, modules and rulebooks - that show us players being pretty active in establishing the content and parameters of the shared fiction.
D&D 4e goes further than either the Traveller or AD&D texts in both core and supplementary books - I already mentioned player-authored quests and the DMG2, and those aren't the only examples.
So where does the idea come from that the player's job is essentially to be an audience to fiction estabished and set forth by the GM? My own view is that the 2nd ed AD&D books are a significant part of the answer to this question. That may not be the only or even the best answer.
Again, what's striking to me is that there appears to be a culture here which is not what I would expect if all I knew was late-70s/early-80s RPG texts. And related, that a game published in 1977 seems closer in its ethos to Apocalypse World than many RPGs that are ostensibly far more modern.